Battle over ancient oak used to spy on Charles I’s soldiers

A row has erupted over whether to chop down a 700-year-old tree once used to spy on King Charles I’s army.

The oak was used as a lookout by Parliamentary Roundhead forces to secretly watch Royalist armies during the English Civil War in April 1643.

But plans to replace the ancient “King’s Spy Oak” with a three-bed house have sparked a split between developers and residents in Caversham, Berks.

The oak is subject to a tree preservation order but Chair Homes describes it as “diseased” in the planning application.

The company says it would replace the oak with two new trees, though this has been met with massive ­opposition from locals.

One resident, Emma Bennett, says a rotting oak tree like this one is “a vital and increasingly rare eco-system”.

In her objection, posted on Reading Council’s website, she says that very few trees such as the King’s Spy Oak are left in Britain, and they can support up to 1,800 invertebrate species each.

She also says that claims the tree is in decline due to “heart rot” are ­misleading as it will take up to 100 years or more for the tree to die.

Emma added: “Current government guidelines state ‘you should refuse planning permission if development will result in the loss or deterioration of ancient trees and veteran trees unless there are wholly exceptional reasons’, which is clearly not the case here. One new house cannot be worth the felling of such a rare and important veteran tree.”

Fellow objector Jennifer Leach said: “The ancient tree is exceptional – historically, ecologically, and in terms of statuesque beauty. It would be an act of vandalism if it were to be felled for any reason. To be felled in order to make way for a highly unimaginative private dwelling squeezed into a small garden would be the epitome of greed.

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“Greed was never pretty; in end times such as these, it has become ecocidal.”

Local biodiversity group Reading Tree Wardens has also objected, while The Woodland Trust is expected to protest too.

A spokesman for Reading Tree Wardens said: “We strongly object to the application. Ancient trees are irreplaceable – nothing can compensate for their loss, which cannot be mitigated by replacement tree planting.

“The vast response to our campaign indicates that it is considered a national treasure.”

Chair Homes has been approached for comment.

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